Sunday, May 24, 2009

The God of Hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

                        Romans 15.13 

Gospel Truth Clichés

My Pentecostal upbringing—which I treasure with all my heart—was rich in phraseology due to its high-octane emphasis on spoken word, joyful music, and evangelistic fervor. Our best preachers were wizards at transposing scriptural principles into colorful sound bytes that quickly filtered into our song lyrics and testimony. For example, Paul’s statement that transformation in Christ does away with old things and makes everything new (2 Corinthians 5.17) was often expressed as, “He changed my walk; He changed my talk.” Faith in God’s healing and protection inspired us to say, “He’s a doctor in the sickroom and a lawyer in the courtroom.” Of course, overuse weakened their substance—so much so a great friend (like me, a preacher’s kid) often kidded our heavy reliance on “gospel clichés.” As one who cherished our vivid expressions, I took issue with his cynical view, reminding him they conveyed universal truth. While he continued to tease their usage, he avoided my challenges by referring to them as “gospel truth clichés”—always with a fond wink my way.

“He’s a Friend to the friendless and Hope for the hopeless” remains my favorite gospel truth cliché because it captures the foundation on which the whole of our faith rests. If stamina flags or rational thought triggers unanswerable questions, we stand on God’s unfailing love and ability to do more than we ask or imagine. When every sign indicates our prayers have got lost, probability appears nil that our trials will end in triumph, and patience feels pointless, we ground ourselves in confidence God is our Friend and Hope. We don’t accomplish this by force of will, however. According to Romans 15.13, the Holy Spirit comes to our rescue by flooding us with hope.

When the Spirit Comes

In His final week as a natural man, Jesus consumes nearly every waking moment on last-minute details, the most important being intensive preparation of the disciples for His death, resurrection, and ascension. The Holy Spirit figures prominently in His discussions, as He informs His followers a Force unlimited by time and space will fill the void left by His absence. In John 16, He eases their apprehension of being left alone. “It is for your good that I am going away,” He says in verse 7. “Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” As He explains the Holy Spirit’s role Jesus tells them, “He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will tell you what is yet to come.” (v13) Because the Spirit speaks for the God of hope Paul mentions, It guides us to look forward, steering our attention away from present problems to believe wholeheartedly in what’s to come—deliverance from trouble, healing from suffering, peace and joy to relieve anxiety and sorrow, and so forth.

Making Faith Possible

Hebrews 11.1 defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” i.e., trusting the God of hope. Yet expectancy short of natural reason and confidence without tangible proof fall beyond our capacity, which means authentically trusting the God of hope is humanly impossible. Merely on a biological level, we’re hard-wired to respond to our immediate environment relying solely on our senses. Intellectually, we base decisions on what we can plausibly predict. Thus, the Holy Spirit’s primary purpose is making faith possible in the absence of instinctive reasoning. Once the Spirit makes our faith possible, any and everything else becomes possible. Jesus clearly emphasizes this in Mark 9.23: “Everything is possible for him who believes.”

The power of the Holy Spirit causes our hope to overflow. It gives us more faith than we need. We run afoul by thinking of faith as something constructed out of our personal resources. We settle for less than we can have because hoping for more demands trust we can’t summon on our own. “I wish I had that kind of faith,” we say with sad resignation. But faith doesn’t originate with us; it’s given to us by the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 5.5 we learn, “By faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” Faith comes through the Spirit. Without faith, extolling God as a Friend to the friendless and Hope for the hopeless retains its lovely sentiment while losing its veracity; it’s a hollow cliché. Once we appeal to the Spirit’s guidance to stir our belief and hope overflows us, it—and every other expression of faith—rings with vibrant, unassailable truth.

The Holy Spirit makes faith possible, causing our hope to overflow.

(Tomorrow: The Gift of Joy)

Postscript: A Gentle Reminder

If you’re interested in a monthly online Bible study but haven’t yet indicated your scheduling preference, please take a moment to respond to the poll in the upper right column or fire off a quick email. Currently we have 11 responses—seven in the poll and four emails—and the results are virtually tied. The poll will close at the end of the month and your input will be greatly appreciated.

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